OAKLAND – Make no mistake: approximately 3,600 flight miles in two days is preferred only by someone racing to achieve their next level of airliner status, not by a Major League Baseball team looking to start the second half of the season on a high note.
Leave it to Rangers manager Chris Woodward to find the bright side, though.
“I think everybody was aware it was a unique break,” Woodward said in Oakland just over a day after the Rangers played in Miami against the Marlins. “I honestly think it was better for us.
“I don’t think anytime you travel that far and back is good for you. I’m not saying that. I just think the fact that it forced us to have a little shorter break maybe benefits us because we didn’t just let [our] guard down. Because we’ve had trouble with that the last couple of years.”
The good news: The Rangers showed something on Friday that would suggest this second half won’t be like the ones before it.
The bad news, at least for one game: it was shown too late.
The Rangers rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth and loaded the bases for former Oakland infielder Marcus Semien, but a 100 mile per hour grounder was snagged by A’s third baseman Vimael Machín for the final out.
Finals: 5-4, A’s.
“In the ninth inning we had some good at bats, but prior to the ninth we didn’t really do much,” Woodward said.
A’s starting pitcher Cole Irvin threw seven innings and limited a Rangers offense that didn’t resemble the one that slugged its way to an 8-0 win in Miami a day before. Irvin improved to 3-0 against the Rangers in Oakland.
Irvin looked dialed in from the beginning, allowing no base runners the first time through the Rangers’ lineup.
Texas starting pitcher Spencer Howard was the opposite. Howard said he never had a feel for his stuff against the A’s lineup. He allowed nine base runners and four runners in 4.2 innings. A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano had the A’s only home run of the night.
Asked after the game if the cross-country travel might’ve affected his comfort level, Howard said that wasn’t a possible excuse, considering he flew straight to Oakland after the All-Star break.
The other Rangers, however, had to make the trip. On the bright side: they won’t have another cross-country trip before Saturday’s night game against Oakland.
The travel created for a unique start to the second half. That’s fine with the Rangers as long as the rest of the series in Oakland — and then in Seattle and Los Angeles after it — doesn’t resemble the second half starts the team has had of late.
Last season, the Rangers started the second half by losing 10 straight games. There was a stretch in the beginning where they were outscored 39-2 by the Blue Jays and Tigers. In 2019 – a year before the All-Star break was canceled in a COVID-shortened season – the Rangers won their first two games of the second half before going on an eight-game losing streak.
While the physical repercussions of a short break and two long flights remain to be seen, Woodward thought that his team looked a little more “crisp,” as he called it, and more mentally sharp. They certainly looked the part in Miami on Thursday.
The series against Oakland — after another long flight — created another challenge for the Rangers.
At least for one night, it was a challenge too difficult to overcome.
A day off: Rangers rookie Josh Smith got a break from starting on Friday in Oakland. Smith, the go-to leadoff hitter of late, entered Friday on an 0-for-18 streak at the plate. He did come off the bench and go 1-for-2, including a RBI single in the ninth.
Fellow rookie Ezequiel Duran got the start at third Friday.
Woodward said he may “take the heat off” Smith and move him down in the batting order.
“Whatever it is, he’s got to find a way out,” Woodward said of the reason behind Smith’s recent struggles. “But he’s one kid I look at it [and say] this kid is relentless, man. He’s not going to give in, he’s not going to quit and he’s going to keep fighting. He’ll eventually have some success.”
Return on the horizon: Rangers starting pitcher Dane Dunning was with the team Friday in Oakland. Dunning went on the 15-day IL on July 11 with a right ankle impingement. He pitched five innings in a rehabilitation start for the Arizona Complex League Rangers on Thursday night, allowing three hits and two earned runs while striking out nine. He can be activated from the IL on Monday and could pitch as soon as Tuesday in Seattle.
On Twitter: @JoeJHoyt
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